David Carr: ‘We want CNN to be good, to be worthy of its moment’

By Alex Weprin 

The New York TimesDavid Carr focuses this week’s media column on CNN, framed in its performance last week in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

Still, when big news breaks, we instinctively look to CNN. We want CNN to be good, to be worthy of its moment. That impulse took a beating last week. On Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., the correspondent John King reported that a suspect had been arrested. It was a big scoop that turned out to be false.

CNN may have made the most prominent error, but every TV network and media outlet made errors. The issue, as Carr does hint at indirectly, is that when there is big breaking news, the kimono is opened up, and the messy and often-wrong process of gathering news is revealed for everyone to see.

Here’s how: As a general practice, wall-to-wall live television reporting is perilous. Maybe instead of the constant images of police tape, television news should frame their own coverage with a virtual version, indicating that viewers proceed at their own risk.

Despite the suggestion otherwise, people who are on the air talking about the news cannot report while they are doing it. Producers make hundreds of decisions on the fly. The incrementalism and vamping required to fill the hours — “Again, as we have been saying, Anderson … ” — makes everyone desperate to say anything vaguely new.

For his part, CNN’s Piers Morgan took to Twitter to take issue with Carr’s item.